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Ian Rankin talk on The Dark Remains in St. Andrews


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Not too sure where this should be put so Mods please move as appropriate. 


On Monday night I was in St. Andrews to see Ian Rankin. Part of the events laid on by the bookshop Topping & Company. Throughout the year they have lots of these events featuring authors with books to promote. 


Ian Rankin was there to talk about his completion of the book The Dark Remains based on notes by the deceased author William McIlvanney. I must admit I knew nothing about McIlvanney and was interested to learn he was one of the authors who inspired Rankin to write the Rebus books. 


McIlvanney created a detective called Jack Laidlaw and set the books in the 70's in Glasgow. He was advised by his publishers that tho he may make lots of money from the novels they would do little for his standing in literary circles and so he abandoned them in favour of literature, essays and poetry. 


After completing his first few Rebus novels and by then living in France, Rankin started corresponding with McIlvanney by letter and they became friends. Prior to his death McIlvanney had been planning on returning to his Detective Laidlaw and had written about 100 pages of notes for a prequel and a final book to close the chapter on the detective. He died before starting to write the book. The notes were just that, it wasn’t 100 pages of the prequel novel, just ideas, sketches, lines and paragraphs and no ending.


Six years after his death his publishers suggested someone write the prequel book and his widow said she would like Rankin to do it. And during the second UK lockdown he set about the task and the result is The Dark Remains. 


Rankin spoke for over an hour and then answered questions. He has obviously spoken live many times as he was immediately at ease and soon expanding on his talk, taking little meanders down other avenues of thought relating to his writings and Rebus. One of the questions he was asked was about his first Rebus novel and the fact that in the tenement Rebus lives there was another resident called Jock Laidlaw. Rankin admitted he’d forgotten all about that but agreed it was probably a nod to McIlvanney’s creation. He also talked about other aspects he’d forgotten, like how the back story for Big Ger (the gangster nemesis of Rebus originally had him coming from Glasgow and then Rankin changed it to Edinburgh. These for me back up my disagreement with teachers I’ve had telling me all about what the author was thinking at the time of writing, how this or that passage or place or name means such and such. I don’t believe every author knows everything about their books or why they include names, places etc. Some of course do but not all aspects of books are as planned as some teachers would have us believe. And therefore, unless there is actual writing from the author stating something about the book we cannot always infer as so many scholarly people seem to do about the meanings etc in the book. I’m sure many will disagree with me on that.


But, back from my own little meander, if you have the chance to go and have a listen to Rankin I would recommend it. He came across as an intelligent, amiable and informed speaker.


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